Tomatoes are the quintessential garden plant, which has fans as loyal and vocal as bleed purple and gold for the LSU Tigers. LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Tom Koske is a rabid tomato fan who has his favorites.
He advises to order your seed now while there is still a supply available. Start seed in early January to have about eight weeks of growth before transplanting.
"For me, a tomato not only has to taste good, but it has to grow well in my garden," Koske says, adding, "A great-tasting tomato is of little interest to me if it won’t produce."
He notes that looking through the catalogs you’ll see that all the varieties are said to grow well and taste great, but that’s not exactly true.
"One of my best picks is the old Better Boy," the horticulturist says, explaining, "This vine tomato has good flavor and adequate disease resistance including resistance to nematodes." It’s available in 90 percent of the garden centers, which is a convenient plus.
Another of Koske’s favorites, which also is widely available, is the determinant Celebrity. It produces very well and has "pretty good flavor." A determinant variety grows to a specific length and then stops.
"If you can’t raise Celebrity or Better Boy, you probably can’t grow tomatoes," Koske says.
He also offers some honorable mentions, including Monte Carlo, Merced, Terrific and Mountain Spring. Creole produces a good and tasty crop for a non-hybrid.
If the Spotted Wilt Virus invades your garden, two new cultivars do well against the disease. They are BHN 444 and Amelia.
"The flavor is just O.K., but at least you’ll have tomatoes," Koske says.
Growing tomatoes in summer is a real talent because Louisiana heat creates growth and physiological problems that cause most cultivars not to pollinate. Several new releases have solved this problem to some degree. They may not be as tasty as a spring-grown crop, but these generally will produce and are the best under the circumstances. They include Heatwave, Solar Set, Sunmaster and Sunleaper.
Last, but not least, is another favorite – the cherry group. This group rarely misses and can set some fruit even in the heat.
"I like a big cherry, so Jolly takes first place," Koske says, adding, "Cherry Grande is a determinant that also does well." He says Juliet makes great, elongated cherry fruit that holds well. It’s a winner, too.
Of the smaller fruited cherries, the horticulturist likes the Sweet Million.
"With cherry types, you can hardly go wrong, and most taste good to excellent," Koske says.
For more recommended varieties and production practices, see LSU AgCenter publication 1902, "Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden." It is available through your local county agent or the LSU AgCenter Web site.
For related topics look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site: www.lsuagcenter.com.